The much-anticipated third volume of Letter & Spirit has rolled off the presses and into the warehouse. In fact, I’m holding a copy in my hands. It features fascinating studies by the best and brightest: Cardinals Avery Dulles and Christoph Schonborn, Michael Waldstein, Romanus Cessario, David Fagerberg, and Scott Hahn. One of my favorite essays is by Gary Anderson of Notre Dame. Here’s how my friend Scott Hahn sums it up in the volume’s opening editorial:
“Redeem Your Sins by the Giving of Alms: Sin, Debt, and the ‘Treasury of Merit’ in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition,” the contribution by Gary A. Anderson, also has important ecumenical implications. This ambitious article explores the roots of the complex spiritual and theological tradition that became a flashpoint in the Reformation—“the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints.”
The idea of sin as a kind of debt owed to God is seen in the Our Father (Matt. 6:12). Likewise, the notion that charity covers a multitude of sins is clear enough from the New Testament record (1 Pet. 4:8). But Anderson locates the roots of this tradition much deeper in the Jewish scriptural and interpretative tradition. He then traces the nuances of its development through the New Testament, the rabbis, and the witness of early Syriac Christianity. This is serious exegesis and theology with significant implications for apologetics and ecumenical dialogue, as Anderson concludes with not a little understatement: “I think it is fair to say that the practice of issuing an indulgence is not as unbiblical as one might have imagined.”
For those who are keeping a patristic scorecard, Dr. Anderson calls to the witness stand the Didache, Clement of Alexandria, the Letter to Diognetus, Augustine, and most especially St. Ephrem. All these follow after an all-star team of ancient rabbis. This is a blockbuster article. It, um, merits your immediate attention.